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Beefing up your Second Serve
By:  Scott Baker | Tennis4you  | Tennis Forum  | E-mail

Is your second serve a friend or an enemy to your game? Having a weak second serve can be a big disadvantage. It not only puts the pressure on you to get your first serve in, but it allows your opponent the opportunity to take control of the point early. Avoid thinking of the second serve as the shot that you need to get in the box just to get the point started. The second serve can be a weapon, or at minimum, a way to fight off your opponent from attacking and putting the pressure on early. There are 3 ways to beef up your second serve to make it more of a weapon. The 3 ways to improve a second serve are spin, placement and speed. If you can incorporate just 2 out of 3 of these you are well on your way to having a very solid second serve!

There are 4 types of spin you can use on your second serve; flat, slice, topspin or the kick serve. Being able to use the different spins helps to keep your opponents guessing and always having to adjust to the different spins. Slice serves are effective, but unless you can really pull someone off of the court with a slice second serve, I recommend developing a topspin serve or a kick serve (AKA, American Twist Serve). The advantage of the topspin and kick serves is the way that they bounce. Both of these serves bounce very high making them hard serves to attack. The topspin bounces high because of topspin. The kick serve bounces high but also takes a slight change in direction when it hits the court, which makes the ball harder to judge. Many players stand further back when you hit the high bouncing serves as opposed to returning the slice serve. If you can get them to stand further back you will have more time to react to their return and it will also be harder for them to hit a clean winner. To read in more detail about the 4 different types of serves click here.

Placement is where many players fall short on the second serve. Many players have the goal of just making sure their second serve lands in the service box, and they do not really care where it lands as long as it lands in. Being able to place your second serve gives you an advantage. If you can place the serve where you want in the box you can start to hit to your opponent's weaker side. If you mix placement with spin you can really start to pick on their weaker side. Being able to pull your opponent out wide on a second serve may be to your advantage if your opponent is a slower player. Placement is key, and if you are not placing your second serve than you need to start. It takes practice and a certain level of comfort. Grab a bucket of balls and go out to the court alone and practice aiming your second serve. You will thank yourself when you are able to hit to your opponent's weak backhand as opposed to their rocket forehand!

I am mentioning speed last because I think it is the least important. Speed can help, there is no doubt about it. But unless you are Pete Sampras or Andy Roddick, most players do not have fast second serves. Speeding up your second serve will force your opponent to have to react quicker and may earn you some free points. However, of all the options, speed is the one that can get you in the most trouble. Going for too much on a second serve can cause errors. As you develop spins and placement speed naturally follows. As you become more confident with the serve you can trying swinging a little faster and see where that takes you.

My former tennis pro used to tell me this: "Swing as hard at the second serve as you do at the first, just use all spin". I took his advise, or 90% of it. I swing about 90% as hard at the second serve as I do the first serve, but I use all spin. Top spin and kick serves are a safe bet, they give you the biggest margin of error over the net and also brings the ball back down once it crosses the net. Once you have the spin down, try placing the ball. Once you can place the ball with spin, try speeding up the serve.

Developing a decent second serve will improve your game immensely. You will be able to force your opponent to hit on their weaker side, you can move your opponent around, force them to stand further back, open up the court and force more errors. Try to practice your second serve outside of a match when there is no pressure. Set up targets if you have to or set goals for yourself. Working on your second serve can make your life on the tennis court will be better.

Good Luck on the Court!
Scott Baker